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Adult Stress and Acne

Adult Stress and Acne


There are different views as to the cause of acne. The 2005 "Experimental Dermatology" journal notes that some of these causes can be due to excess oil production, hormones, bacteria, diet and inflammation. Despite the cause, however, it appears that stress worsens acne. A 2003 "Archives of Dermatology" article determined this connection in adult college students during a stressful examination period. This small study concluded that patients with acne may experience worsening of their skin condition during stress.


Stress can be a helpful response in getting things done or meeting a deadline. This type of stress can be stimulating and thrilling. On the contrary, the National Institutes of Health Medline Plus library notes that prolonged stress can become exhausting and lead to conditions like depression and heart disease. The NIH also refers to emotional stress as psychological stress.

The American Psychological Association, or the APA, states that there are three types of stress. Acute stress is considered the most common form and it comes from the pressures or demands of the past or anticipated events of the future. Episodic acute stress occurs in adults who are worriers or have Type A personalities. They are thought to be over-aroused, short-tempered, always in a hurry and anxious. With chronic stress, the APA notes that people forget that it's there. This type of stress wears away at a person day after day.


Cortisol is the primary hormone released during a stress response. In a 2004 "Experimental Dermatology" article, it is pointed out that emotional stress can influence the course of acne. During a stressful event, the pituitary gland produces corticotrophin-releasing hormone, or CRH.

CRH causes the adrenal gland to produce cortisol, which has a variety of functions in the body including breaking down storage forms of fat, protein and carbohydrates to create glucose. The glucose is then used by the tissues in demand for energy, such as muscles.

Corticotrophin Releasing Hormone (CRH)

The central response to stress relies on communication between the brain and adrenal gland, but the brain and the sebum-producing cells in acne-prone skin appear to communicate in a similar fashion.

In addition to producing cortisol, the 2004 "Experimental Dermatology" journal states CRH stimulates oil production in the skin and increases testosterone production. Testosterone is a known causative agent in acne.

Additionally, the 2007 journal "Acta Dermato-Vernereologica" indicates that stress may affect the production of inflammatory chemicals and specific lipids involved in inflammation by the oil producing skin cells.


Lipids are a group of molecules that include fats, oils, waxes, phospholipids and steroids. Steroids are cholesterol-based molecules that form the backbone to hormones in the body. Testosterone and the stress hormone cortisol are both cholesterol based. Moreover, the 2005 "Experimental Dermatology" journal article notes that inflammatory fatty acids such as arachadonic acid appear to enhance the production of lipids within the sebaceous gland.


The very early stages of acne development involves inflammatory events, notes the 2005 "Experimental Dermatology" article. The inflammation of acne leads to skin redness, local edema and heat, painful lesions and scarring. Merck Online mentions that inflammatory acne and acne scarring can bring about stressful psychological effects. These emotional stressors may further instigate the cycle of acne development.

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